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It happened.

Update: It happened again in 2023 when Fairleigh Dickinson University beat Purdue University 63-58.

For the first time in the history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a #16 seeded team knocked off a #1. I watched as UMBC rebounded, ran, and scored against a Virginia team that was out of rhythm and seemingly a few steps behind. I kept refreshing my Twitter feed, chuckling as people were first trying to figure out who and where UMBC was. At commercial breaks, I dove deeper into the Internet pulling up facts and statistics on the UMBC team, comparing them to those of Virginia. As the game progressed, I was mesmerized by the quickness of the Retrievers and pumped my fist at every three-point shot made. And I like Virginia. I mean, there’s nothing not to like about Virginia. But I just wanted to see what would happen next, and I started thinking about how much fun it would be to watch UMBC play in the next game.

I imagine there are some admissions officers who find themselves in this same position. They have two candidates: one like Virginia with near-perfect stats and many accolades from arguably one of the strongest conferences, and the other like UMBC with a respectable but not remarkable record demonstrating grit, preparedness, calm, and talent. The players on both teams are well-spoken, nice guys from scandal-free programs. Yet only one team can advance, much like only one student can receive an offer of admission.

As final college admissions decisions roll in over the next few weeks, consider:

As a student, the odds are in your favor if you do well in a rigorous curriculum. Most of the time – 135 out of 136 times since 1985 – the team with the season’s best record over the toughest opponents is going to win in the first round.

While your classes, grades, activities, and recommendations may speak for themselves, you must put equal effort into your essay. All the teams in the tournament are talented, and all of them have the capability of winning, but what’s their story? Do they illustrate those intangible traits that will allow them to succeed?

Prepare and be realistic – know yourself, know your schools. The teams watch hours upon hours of game film, carefully studying and looking ahead for opportunities and potential mismatches. They have a good idea of what breaks will have to go their way to pull off the win.

Dare to take a risk. Jairus Lyles hit a game-winning 3 pointer with 0.5 seconds left and UMBC won the American East conference title, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. But for that shot, we might be reading about Virginia beating Vermont. Instead, Jairus has bragging rights over his parents (UVA alumni) for the rest of his life!

March Madness, indeed.

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